European Committee for the Prevention of Torture
and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Developments concerning CPT standards
in respect of police custody
Extract from the 12th General Report of the CPT,
published in 2002
More than a decade has elapsed since the CPT described, in its 2nd General Report, some of
the main issues pursued by the Committee in relation to police custody. In the meantime, the
Committee has carried out more than a hundred further visits and the number of Parties to the
Convention has practically doubled. Naturally, the CPT's standards in respect of police custody
have gradually evolved, in the light of new situations encountered and experience gathered.
Following the approach taken in its 11th General Report in respect of imprisonment, the CPT would
like to highlight in its 12th General Report a miscellany of issues related to police custody which
illustrate the development of the CPT's standards.
It is essential to the good functioning of society that the police have the powers to
apprehend, temporarily detain and question criminal suspects and other categories of persons.
However, these powers inherently bring with them a risk of intimidation and physical ill-treatment.
The essence of the CPT's work is to seek ways of reducing that risk to the absolute minimum
without unduly impeding the police in the proper exercise of their duties. Encouraging
developments in the field of police custody have been noted in a number of countries; however, the
CPT's findings also highlight all too often the need for continuing vigilance.
The questioning of criminal suspects is a specialist task which calls for specific training if
it is to be performed in a satisfactory manner. First and foremost, the precise aim of such
questioning must be made crystal clear: that aim should be to obtain accurate and reliable
information in order to discover the truth about matters under investigation, not to obtain a
confession from someone already presumed, in the eyes of the interviewing officers, to be guilty. In
addition to the provision of appropriate training, ensuring adherence of law enforcement officials to
the above-mentioned aim will be greatly facilitated by the drawing up of a code of conduct for the
questioning of criminal suspects.
Over the years, CPT delegations have spoken to a considerable number of detained persons
in various countries, who have made credible claims of having been physically ill-treated, or
otherwise intimidated or threatened, by police officers trying to obtain confessions in the course of
interrogations. It is self-evident that a criminal justice system which places a premium on
confession evidence creates incentives for officials involved in the investigation of crime - and often
under pressure to obtain results - to use physical or psychological coercion. In the context of the
prevention of torture and other forms of ill-treatment, it is of fundamental importance to develop
methods of crime investigation capable of reducing reliance on confessions, and other evidence and
information obtained via interrogations, for the purpose of securing convictions.